Well, Let’s Hope So!

Friday, February 4, 2011 By Rick Levine

(Aug 23 – Sep 22)

You are motivated to get a lot done at work today with the Sun-Mars conjunction activating your 6th House of Employment. The cluster of planets in futuristic Aquarius encourages you to set pragmatism aside and take a risk for what you want. And although you might not be seeing everything clearly now, it’s smarter to trust your intuition and do what makes sense to you rather than wasting your energy trying to persuade others to share your point of view.

It’s no secret that I love my Rick Levine horoscopes (even though I’m not sure if I’m a Virgo or a Leo these days…) because I find them eerily fitting to my current life.

Or perhaps I’m just eerily hopeful that the good ones will pan out for my day!

After Max’s Bar Mitzvah I took a few days to recover (OY!) Well, who wouldn’t need to recover from THIS?

Knitting note: For those who enjoy Candace Eisner Strick’s work, her
sister, Judith (on violin) is the leader of this Klezmer band, Klezmorim.

Killer Cold

And as soon as my recovery seemed complete, Max came down with a croupy cough (he’s prone to those) while leaped to me, then to Hannah, and then to Gerry.

Max is great now, he’s gearing up for a weekend retreat with his B’nai Mitzvah class where they will discuss the facts of life.  We joke that it’s going to be two days of guilt training.

Hannah’s well enough to go to school after 2 sick days.  It’s the start of the semester and she LOVES her classes and hates to miss them.  Besides, today’s a half day, so it gives her a chance to touch base, pick up assignments, then return home and rest for a few days.  She does seem much better, just tired.

Gerry’s hit hard – he’s sleeping right now, and missed his photoshop class last night (he’s training with the hope of finding work doing web video stuff, it’s through a program for disabled Minnesotans).

And me?  Well, any chance my lungs have for a bender is all they need to go nuts for a week.  Laying down is insanely hard, sitting up is tiring, but complaining makes it ALL BETTER.  Wah, wah, wah.


Seriously, though, I’ve been getting a lot of swatching & pattern writing work done, which is great!  I can’t show images of my sketches because they’re currently in contention for some mag issues, but I’d love to share some of the swatch highlights…

The Mother of a Young Man

Cold Night in St. Paul

This was a BIG WEEK for our family, and I’m afraid it’s going to take me a few days to get my energy back.

Thursday after his last session with his Hebrew tutor, we went for a cold visit to our favorite park to see the beautiful, huge moon over St. Paul.

On Friday night Max participated in our evening services, Saturday was the BIG DAY when he chanted parts of the Torah portion Yitro.

Dessert Table!

Allow me to kvell a bit when I say, he knocked it OUT of the PARK!

Max’s singing of the blessings, his chanting, his whole demeanor was so poised and full of grace.  He absolutely glowed with happiness (or was that his very pale skin?) Max made us all very proud – himself included.

Gerry Now, and at HIS Bar Mitzvah

A Bar Mitzvah is a chance for a boy (Bat Mitzvah for a girl) to become a full member of a congregation by leading a service and giving a d’var Torah (a speech about the portion of the Torah he’s been studying.)

It’s a very big event, but it’s not about the party – it’s about claiming and celebrating one’s identity as a Jew, and learning enough to lead a service.  Which is exactly what Max did this weekend (and did it VERY well!)

Max’s portion was Yitro (found in Exodus) and is VERY special to our family.  It’s a great portion, lots of good stuff, and Gerry and I have always loved it.

Yitro, for whom the portion was named, was NOT an Israelite (not  “Jewish”) and that always appealed to me – the non-Jew in the family.

Yitro shows patience, love and intelligence when dealing with Moses and his organizational problems – which is as much as any of us could look for in a father-in-law!

And then Gerry alerted me to an unusual series of connections:

  • Yitro is usually pronouced Jethro in English.
  • Jethro was the well known son of Jed Clampett in the Beverly Hillbillies
  • My family are all from West Virginia [cue the banjo]
  • The part of Jethro was played by Max Baer Jr.
  • MB Jr. was the son of Max Baer, the first Jewish Heavyweight Champ
  • Our Jewish son is also named Max
  • Max’s Hebrew middle name is “Yitro”

Max & Friends at the Lunch

See – it’s all one big coincidence!

The Tallit & Kippot I knit were terrific – Max really loved them!  The extra-cold weather  made some things hard (the challah almost froze in the car) but folks here are pretty much inured to the cold.

Before we went into the service I sang a bit of “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” to him and he was ready to go up onto the Bima and shine!

Knitters & Knots

With the help of my friend Kathleen, Mavis from the temple kitchen, various Mt. Zion friends & my friend London, the food was ready and plentiful!  Thank you, everyone!

The dancing, the music, the balloons that got tangled in a big knot (good thing I had some great knitters to straighten them out!) are all one big blur for me right now.

With family in from out of town we were pretty busy with dinner last night, then this morning I had a meeting and then brunch with the New York gang.

Hannah, Max & Grandma enjoy the band

I loved seeing Max and Hannah dancing with their cousins and their grandmother – what a wonderful day!  Hannah and her cousin Matthew discovered a shared loved of Anime, and both kids loved spending time with their pretty cousin, Liana.

I think everyone went home very happy, but exhausted – I know I am!

It’s going to take me a few days to recharge my batteries and get my “spoons” back in my drawer.

But it was worth it – this was a once-in-a-lifetime event!

Holy Knitting!

Many of you know we have a big event coming up in 2 weeks (or 12 days as Max would remind me).

Max will be welcomed into our congregation as a Bar Mitzvah (son of the commandment) and we’re all pretty excited.

His portion is Yitro, which is a big deal because it’s the portion which contains the story of the giving of the 10 commandments.

It’s also part of his Hebrew name: Moshe Yitro.

Yitro (Jethro) is one of our favorite characters in the whole big story, and has the added attraction of being the only non-Jew for which a portion of the Torah is named.

Gems & Signatures

Some day Max will be very happy to have learned how to chant the whole 10 Commandments in Hebrew, but right now he’s just concentrating on getting through it.

He’s been attending Hebrew school on Wednesdays and Sundays for a few years, this past year that was amplified with individual weekly meetings with the Rabbi & Cantor, and weekly tutoring sessions with a lovely woman (whose mother is an avid knitter!)

Double Knit Edging

So Max will be ready.

He’s written his dvar Torah – the speech he’ll give about a section of his portion that resonates with him.  (Spoiler alert: It’s not about the 10 Commandments…) Family and friends are flying in from out of town, a band has been hired, food is being prepared.  But I wanted to do something more personal to show Max how proud I am of him.

So I knit him a tallit.

A tallit is the rectangular shawl that is worn by Jews when they pray.  There are certain rules about it, which are adhered to with differing levels of observance, but knitting one is perfectly okay.

It could have been any color, but I stuck with a traditional blue and white.  I used wool (Louet Gems merino) and tried to keep it simple.  I didn’t want it to be girlie, of course, but I did want to have some geometric lacework.

Too frou-frou?

The ribbon attempt

The atarah (crown) is the collar portion.  I could have created it in several ways.

I could have bought one; I could have written a Hebrew verse or blessing using fabric markers onto a band of fabric; I could have embroidered a message (but when I tried that route it didn’t look great.)

But I settled on knitting the atarah with the words Sh’ma Israel –  “Hear O Israel” in Hebrew:

שמע ישראל

Sh'ma - oops!

I cleverly selected a short phrase so the knitting wouldn’t be as odious.  I still managed to leave off a yud (head slap!) so I had to duplicate stitch that little bit in later.

All that’s left is to tie the tzitzit – the knots at each corner – which are the whole point of the garment.  Hannah’s very good at the tying, so she’ll be handling that part of our project.

A few years ago she painted a tallit in her 6th grade Hebrew school class, and it’s just lovely (she’s going to wear it at Max’s service) That was when she discovered her latent talent as a tzitzit tyer!

Making this ceremonial religious piece has been an adventure and a journey for me.  The pride and love I feel for Max and his accomplishment, my own excitement at being part of this, and just the great fun of this tal-knit will always be a part of my memory of Max’s big day.

I found myself exploring my own connection with Judaism, my feelings toward the traditions, and my place in our interfaith home as I worked through each section of the piece.

This past Sunday a group of women met at the Temple to knit healing shawls for folks in need.  I joined in to help some new knitters hone their skills, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

This was week one of an ongoing series of meetings which had been planned in part by Jane Steinman, a lovely woman who used to be the president of the congregation.

Jane was so welcoming to Gerry and I when we were considering joining Mt. Zion, so it was with great sadness that we learned of her sudden passing late last year.  I was glad to see Betsy carrying on with the plan for the knitting sessions, and the women who showed up really enjoyed it!

Kipot for the Kepi

Jane had been a cancer survivor (Gerry bonding) and an avid knitter (Annie bonding) and I like to think that Jane would really appreciate the knitted tallit for Max. I wish she could be there to see Max wearing it on the bima.

I’m currently finishing up a crocheted kipot (yarmulke) and a tallit bag where he can carry all of this stuff (also crocheted)  I’m working these up mostly in the blue Gems, which has been a dream to work with (as always!)

Well, Max is 1/2 Hill People…

I hope I don’t sound like a broken record when I say that this project just SAILED by as I knit it up with my Signature needles.  They are the fastest needles I’ve ever use.

Next, we take Max and shop for duds!  I’m campaigning for a nice blazer and khakis, Gerry’s feeling a suit is necessary.

Waxing & Waning

I swear, I just feel like an epic blog fail these days.

Finding something interesting to write about evades me some days.  I enjoy the blogging, and I’m not going to stop, but I’m sorry that I’m not a more vivid or regular correspondent these days.

I’m definitely feeling the weather.  Cold days are hard, and this may be the year I begin wearing socks. But now that my last tie to West Virginia is broken, I guess it’s time to don foot gear.

I have been trying to pretend that I don’t feel the weather chilling up – riding my bike every day – but then I remember the paralyzed, painful period I had last Fall and I find myself a little scared.

I feel like I’m looking up a hill, and I could sit and whine about it all day, but nothing will get me UP the hill but ME.

Evidently I’m going through a phase, I’m Gibous.

And all that frenetic energy I exhibit at times?  That’s must be libration.


One thing I have been doing is setting up a new classroom structure within a domain I already own. The ning fees aren’t terrible, but they are adding up.  If I can make a better classroom AND move away from ning, so much the better. All I’ll have to pay are subscription services for various secured media hosting and my domain and hosting fees – much less than the ning fees!

I have two classes ready to go, and I figured today I’d transfer some of my free How to Knit students over.  Yes, that’s the price of the class – guinea pigginess.

I’ve got the chat working, I’ve set up a group gallery for each class, I’ve got the videos and handouts all set up (and I’ve reworked the videos at a higher resolution) The only thing I won’t have in the classes are forums.

Maybe I’m a little forum shy, or maybe it’s because they weren’t utilized very much over at my ning classroom, but I just feel I’d rather answer folks’ questions individually or have them participate in the chat.

I’m also rethinking my pricing structure.  Online class fees run a pretty wide scale, mine have hovered around $50.  I’ve never felt 100% great about that – it seems as though they should be cheaper – but I didn’t want to undercut other online class teachers and become a race to the bottom.

My Recent Fun

However, even though the classes run a full month, it’s still NOT the same as me going to an in-person event.  Once I move the classes I’ll be able to charge less because I won’t have the monthly ning fees hovering over my head (yay!)  What are your thoughts on this?

Figuring out the minimal coding has been daunting, but also exciting.  I’m a bit of a geek, but I have a tendency to learn only enough to make myself dangerous.  Since Adria Richards introduced me to Word Press (and Margaret Roach gave me an extra push) I’ve been very happy.

Finding that there are great plug-ins and add-ons which can turn a blog into a password protected classroom setup is pretty wonderful.

But, as with many self taught knitters I meet, I just have this nagging fear that I’m not doing it RIGHT.  And, as in knitting, maybe there isn’t one RIGHT way to figure widgets and categories and minimal php coding.  I mean, if the code works and if it’s not cluttered, maybe that’s the goal – reachable by many different routes?

At any rate, learning is good, and I’m getting fired up to create a few new classes this Fall.

Millinery & Beyond!

So MANY things in this great book that I want to knit!

Number one on my new class list is Millinery.  I’ve been wanting to add this class, and receiving the new book, Modern Knits, Vintage Style yesterday gave me the encouragement I need!

My Hat!

I worked this hat up out of love – I fell in love with the yarn, I have a long-standing love affair with cloches, and so I just knit it for no reason.

When I was contacted by Kari Cornell about submitting something for Modern Knits, Vintage Style, I suggested this happy cloche and she accepted it – yay!

I love that, designing for a group project rarely happens so tidily.

Offering a class on how to make this hat as an online class will be the cherry on top of the whole adventure.  It’s such a happy design, I did it during our period down at Rochester in 2007 so it bears happy memories, too!

In Other Vintage News

She looks like she KNOWS something a little evil & a little funny...

I’ve been ABSOLUTELY remiss about mentioning Knitting It Old School by Stitchy McYarnpants – and I LOVE the book so much!

I’m not just saying that because I have a piece – a crocheted piece – in the book.  I’m saying it because it’s true.  This is a wonderful little journey into some modern knits that have a certain old-time feeling (hmmm, there’s a lot of that going around…) and I found myself becoming more and more excited about each piece as I leafed through the book.

One of the hardest things about what I call Queen Midas Syndrome – turning what I love into gold – is that I don’t have the time to just KNIT something I see in a book.  Any extra time I have is usually not devoted to knitting, and any knitting I engage in is generally for hire.  It’s a trade off, and I’m not complaining.  But it makes looking through these exceptional books a little bittersweet.

For everyone whose said to me, “I am jealous you get to knit for a living!” I could respond, “I’m jealous you get to knit for fun alone!” But I can’t complain – aside from some hard deadlines or difficult pattern writing sessions, most of what I do really IS fun!

B’nai Hey Hey!

We met with our Rabbi yesterday to see what stuff we need to check off our list (or ADD to our list, as the case may be) regarding Max’s Bar Mitzvah in January.  There is a LOT of stuff to do.

First, we need to find Jews.

We have 6 Aliyot to fill, and they must be filled by Jews.  Dang.  Or should I say, “Oy!” Of course, if I’d been thinking (or if I were Jewish) I would have seen this coming, but it slipped my consciousness until we chatted with the Rabbi last night.

Since moving here almost 4 years ago we’ve made SO many friends – but not a ton of Jewish friends.  In that way, it’s much different than New Jersey.

Obviously I have no Jewish family (no family to speak of, really…) and Gerry’s family is back in NY.  I’d sort of left this up to Gerry, but last night the memory returned to me of our Wedding Date Fiasco.

Wedding Date Fiasco

Gerry and I decided on a date for our wedding, had the invitations printed, sent them out, and THEN we were told that a Saturday afternoon wedding isn’t quite the right thing.  A marriage is a contract, and a contract shouldn’t be signed on Shabbat.

Therefore, Jewish weddings do NOT happen during daylight on Saturday, or after dark on Friday night.  It was such a forehead slapping moment, I felt absolutely humiliated that I hadn’t known that important fact.

To be honest, it only prevented a few members of Gerry’s family from attending our wedding, but it looked bad and those family members (modern Orthodox) were definitely missed.

Gerry plead ignorance, “I didn’t know that!  I’ve never been married before!”

I plead Methodist.

Live at Mount Zion! Klezmorim!

Why it hasn’t occur to me that we will need a posse of Jews to chant blessings before each of Max’s mini-portions is beyond me.  THIS is something I should know, having attended other B’nai Mitzvah.  Oy.

We may be calling on the band to come up and chant a blessing…

Speaking of the band, I attended Steven B’s Knitting & Klezmer event this summer and fell in love with the band, Klezmorim.  I’ve hired them to play on Max’s day, in this case I’d rather spend the money on good, live music than food.

Click to listen & buy!

The band is led by Judith Eisner, who is a sister of Candace Eisner Strick (small world!) and they are SENSATIONAL!  If you’d like to hear a sample of their music, you can listen here (and get the CD!)

Of course, we’ll have food, but it will be a low-key spread of salads and bagels and a big gluten free cake and other sweeties, coffee, tea, etc.  We’ve spoken to two caterers now, and I definitely have the feeling that this is something I and a few friends can do.  Our wedding was rather simple, too.

Or maybe I shouldn’t be using my wedding experience as an example…